Despite its social important, the full, unedited video clip of Martin Luther King's speech "I have a dream" is "tougher to find than you might think" due to "copyright disputes that date back almost as far as the speech itself." Above, the video from I Have Applause, a supercut of King's speech, featuring only the applause.
"These expiration dates are incredibly complicated and constantly changing," said David Sunshine, an intellectual-property lawyer with Cozen O'Connor. "Congress always moves the goalposts on these things when lobbying groups come in."
The Copyright Term Extension Act, passed in 1998, and more commonly known as the Sonny Bono Act or Mickey Mouse Protection Act, did exactly that. Worried about its expiring copyrights on early Mickey Mouse productions, the Walt Disney Company helped spur Congress to stretch the length of copyright protection from the life of the author plus 50 years to life plus 70 years. King was killed in 1968, which means the copyright on his Dream speech won't expire until 2038.
So will King's dream be heard the day of his anniversary? That depends on where you want to view itand how much of it you want to see. Much of what is available shows only fragments of the speech. Some, like the History Channel, note that copyright prevents the presentation of a full version.
Networks and other news organizations can air segments of the speech under the doctrine of "fair use," because they can justify it as substantially newsworthy, Sunshine said. (CBS aired short excerpts this past weekend on its Sunday Morning news show.) But airing the entire speechall 17 minutescould blur those lines.
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